Webb: Defense bill safeguards troops, advances critical defense, national security initiatives
The U.S. Senate last night passed the National Defense Authorization Actfor Fiscal Year 2013, which includes numerous defense and national-security initiatives long advocated by Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.). The bill, approved by a vote of 98-0, will now be conferenced with the House Armed Services Committee.
The Senate-passed bill contains several provisions championed by Sen. Webb, including:
· An amendment to reaffirm the U.S-Japan security treaty as it relates to ongoing maritime disputes;
· Provisions relating to Department of Defense (DoD) plans to restructure U.S. military forces in East Asia;
· Protection and enhancement of retirement and healthcare benefits for military personnel;
· Implementation of significant wartime contracting reforms; and
· The Stolen Valor Act, which will allow criminal charges to be brought against individuals who make false claims regarding military service or awards for material personal gain or a tangible benefit.
“The Senate’s passage of the defense authorization bill for the fifty-first consecutive year demonstrates a strong bipartisan commitment to supporting our troops, their families, and critical defense programs,” said Sen. Webb, who is a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and chair of its Personnel Subcommittee. “Overall, the bill will sustain important quality-of-life programs for our people and their families, address the needs of our warfighters, and sharpen the Defense Department’s proper focus on advancing our national-security interests in the Asia Pacific region. We will also strengthen the federal government’s stewardship of taxpayer dollars during military contingencies overseas.”
Reaffirmation of U.S.-Japan Security Treaty
The NDAA also includes a unanimously approved amendment offered by Sen. Webb to reaffirm the U.S. commitment to Japan under Article V of the Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security, and to firmly counter any attempts to challenge Japan’s administration of the Senkaku Islands.
“This provision in our bill is a strong statement of support for a vital ally in Pacific Asia,” said Sen. Webb, who has expressed numerous concerns over maritime territorial disputes in this region for more than 16 years. “Over the past several years, China has taken increasingly aggressive actions to assert its claim over the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea and in a broad expanse of the South China Sea. This amendment unequivocally states that the United States acknowledges the administration of Japan over the Senkaku Islands, and that this position will not be changed through threats, coercion, or military action.”
Realignment of U.S. Forces in East Asia and the Pacific
Last year, Sen. Webb proposed a series of basing recommendations for the realignment of Marine Corps units on Okinawa. As a result, several major reporting provisions were incorporated in last year’s defense bill. The FY13 measure builds on those provisions and addresses the Defense Department’s proposal for a new laydown for Marine Corps forces in the Pacific. “I believe the number of Marines on Okinawa should be reduced as soon as possible and that there should be a faster timeline for realigning our Marines to Guam,” Sen. Webb said. “The Department of Defense has not yet provided Congress with the mandated master plan that identifies costs, schedules, and other requirements. However, notwithstanding this necessary oversight requirement, we should be responsive and seek to support independent Marine Corps projects on Guam that also serve important training and operational mission in their own right.”
Sen. Webb’s views on basing issues are based on his long-standing interaction in the Pacific region that spans more than 40 years, including service as a Marine Corps infantry officer during the Vietnam war, a defense planner who wrote a region-wide facilities analysis for the Governor of Guam in 1974, a Department of Defense official whose responsibilities included evaluating mobilization scenarios for Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger, and a writer and journalist who has spent a great deal of time in Asia. Sen. Webb has visited East and Southeast Asia regularly during his time in the U.S. Senate in conjunction with his duties as chairman of the East Asian and Pacific Affairs Subcommittee of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and membership on the Armed Services Committee.
“The failure to resolve a 15-year dispute surrounding U.S. military bases in Okinawa has resulted in a volatile political debate in Japan,” Sen. Webb said. “It is in our national interest that this matter be resolved both quickly and smartly, for the well-being of our alliance and the stability of the region.”
The NDAA authorizes a 1.7 percent across-the-board pay raise for all members of the uniformed services, matching the annual increase in the Employment Cost Index. It also establishes a Commission to review military pay and benefits, including the retirement benefit. The NDAA blocks a controversial proposal by the Department of Defense to establish enrollment fees for TRICARE Standard and TRICARE for Life, or to increase TRICARE deductibles or the annual catastrophic cap. Following Sen. Webb’s strong opposition last year to proposed increases in health care fees for military retirees, the FY12 defense bill limited the annual increases of TRICARE Prime enrollment fees to the amount equal to the percentage increase in retired pay beginning October 1, 2012, which was lower than the administration’s original proposal. During a March 2012 Armed Services Committee hearing, he demonstrated how the proposed increases would adversely affect retirees at different income levels and warned about how such changes would be viewed by those currently serving in the military.
“As someone who grew up in the military and served in the military, I start from the presumption that lifetime health care for career military personnel is part of a moral contract between our government and those who have stepped forward to serve,” said Sen. Webb, a former combat Marine and Secretary of the Navy. “By rejecting these short-sighted and unfair new enrollment fees for TRICARE programs, the Senate upheld this moral contract with our men and women in uniform, their families, and military retirees.”
Additional personnel provisions introduced by Sen. Webb for this year’s bill include authorities to extend the 75-day leave carryover authority for those deployed between September 30, 2013 and September 30, 2015, and to extend the Secretary of Defense’s authority to increase basic allowance for housing rates in the U.S. for locations impacted by natural disasters.
Stolen Valor Act
The defense bill also incorporates a measure introduced by Sens. Webb and Scott Brown (R-Mass.) to allow charges to be brought against individuals who make a false claim to have served in the military or to have been awarded a military medal, decoration, or other device in order to secure a tangible benefit or a personal gain. The bill was drafted to comply fully with the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment restrictions outlined in June by the Supreme Court decision United States v. Alvarez, which struck down the original Stolen Valor Act of 2005.
“I am a strong believer in the First Amendment; I believe it is sacrosanct in our society. At the same time, our very special reverence for the First Amendment should be measured against the equally special place that our society holds for military service,” said Sen. Webb, who served as a Marine rifle platoon and company commander in Vietnam and is a former Secretary of the Navy. “Profiting from the misrepresentation of military service or awards undermines the value of service and is offensive to all who have stepped forward to serve our country in uniform. By adhering to the guidance of the Supreme Court ruling, this legislation brings accountability for such reprehensible actions within the scope of the protections offered to all Americans under the First Amendment. I am pleased that Sen. Brown and I could collaborate and build strong bipartisan support for this measure.”
Wartime Contracting Reform
The Senate-passed bill includes numerous major provisions on wartime contracting drawn from legislation introduced earlier this year by Sens. Webb and Claire McCaskill in response to recommendations by the U.S. Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan—an independent, bi-partisan panel established as the result of legislation Sens. Webb and McCaskill cosponsored in 2007. Last year, the panel’s final report asserted up to $60 billion in contracting waste, fraud and abuse has resulted from U.S. operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. The provisions, applicable to the DoD, the Department of State, and the U.S. Agency for International Development, cap a sustained six-year effort to reform wartime contracting and include:
· Elevating oversight responsibility, improving management structures, expanding planning requirements, and reforming contracting practices during overseas military contingencies;
· Prohibiting excessive pass-through contracts and charges to the government;
· Establishing additional oversight responsibilities for Inspectors General for contingency operations;
· Improving the contracting process through greater transparency, competition, and professional education; and
· Instituting additional provisions for contractor accountability.
“While recognizing the important work that has been done by the great majority of our wartime-support contractors, these provisions will improve government oversight, management, and accountability in the contracting processes, where past failures resulted in unacceptable costs, excessive waste, and substandard performance in far too many areas,” said Sen. Webb.
In addition, the Senate-passed bill includes provisions that directly benefit Virginians, including:
· Rejecting DOD’s request for two BRAC rounds in FY13 and FY15;
· Repealing flawed provisions in the FY12 NDAA relating to depot-level maintenance retroactive to date of enactment; this will benefit Virginia’s shipbuilding and ship-repair industries and workers;
· Funding 10 U.S. Navy ships, with advance procurement funding authorized to support buying an additional Virginia-class submarine in FY 2014, and a 10-ship, multi-year procurement contract for DDG-51 guided-missile destroyers that should generate enough savings to purchase an added ship in FY 2014; and
· Transferring land from Fort Lee to Petersburg National Battlefield.
Sen. Webb also introduced a provision to allow DoD law-enforcement officers eligible to carry a concealed firearm anywhere in the United States, amending the Law Enforcement Officers Safety Act (LEOSA) of 2004. Sen. Webb also co-sponsored two amendments offered by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) that were incorporated in the bill. One requires the Secretary of the Navy to offer ship-naming proposals to Congress before announcement or implementation. The other authorizes additional Marine Corps personnel for the performance of security functions for United States embassies, consulates, and other diplomatic facilities abroad.
Sen. Webb concluded by saying, “This is the final defense authorization bill I helped to develop as a member of the Armed Services Committee. During my tenure, I believe the Personnel Subcommittee has produced legislation that has significantly enhanced the quality of life for our active duty, National Guard, and Reserve members, DOD civilian personnel, and their families who stand by them. I have fought to restore proper rotational policies for our troops and to ensure that all those who serve receive fair and adequate compensation, benefits, and the world-class health care they have earned.”
Sen. Webb is also the author of the Post-9/11 GI Bill, which provides those who have served since 9/11 the most comprehensive educational benefits since World War II. To date, Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits have been awarded to more than 800,000 veterans.